One of the most popular questions I get asked is as a vintage shop keeper is "Where do you buy your vintage clothing?" or any other variety of that question such as "Where can I buy the vintage clothes in your shop for my vintage shop?" or "I'm starting an online vintage store, where can I source vintage clothes?"
It's a question that has lots of different answers but the umbrella answer is vintage is sourced EVERYWHERE! From garage sales, estate sales, private dealers, flea markets, antique shops... there is not a single ONE STOP place to buy and source vintage clothing. It's a constant game of treasure hunting followed by cleaning, mending, and caring for.
So, speaking of buying and sourcing vintage clothing, I thought I'd offer up some tried and true advice for buying vintage clothes with this list of 5 Things to Check when buying for yourself or stocking your vintage shop.
The Adored Vintage Guide to Buying and Sourcing Vintage Clothing.
1. CHECK + INSPECT VINTAGE CLOTHING WHERE THERE IS LIGHT
Once I was so excited to find a mini trove of vintage clothing in an antique shop that was a bit dim and dingy. But I was looking at an assortment of antique clothes and several 20s and 30s dresses, my excitement just could not be contained! So, after following the tips below, I thought all was well... traipsed on over to the register, paid for the lot, and thought I had hit the jackpot. Well, unfortunately, when I got home to my vintage studio, my treasures were more trash... if I had checked the garments where I could actually SEE them better, I would have noticed a lot of flaws and probably had said no to most of it! Lesson learned! Always inspect and check vintage clothing where there is light! Bring it to a window or heck, if you're at a super early estate sale, bring a flash light!
2. JUST SAY NO TO ARMPIT STAINS, IF YOU WANT TO...
Armpit stains are the bane of a vintage shopkeepers existence. Well, amongst other things I'm sure, but armpit stains I swear are on the top of that list! If it's ancient, silk, or rayon and it has armpit stains, just know that those stains are probably never going to completely come out! Some vintage sellers may claim they have the exact perfect formula. If they do, they should bottle that damn stuff up and become millionaires slinging magic liquid!!! While certain concoctions will fade or lightly lift out armpit stains on certain fabrics, it won't actually ever go away.
3.] TURN IT INSIDE OUT, CHECK THE GUTS
Sometimes a vintage garment is actually much more interesting on the inside! Garment construction details is one way of dating vintage garments, so checking the inside of vintage clothing is not only a wonderful practice for buying and sourcing, it's also great for increasing your knowledge in dating vintage. When turning a garment inside out you may notice where a garment was taken in, if there is room for the garment to be taken out, if the hem was taken up, taken down, if there is rotting or weakness in the lining. You may also discover something lovely, like a designer label! Once I purchased a simple red silk dress and I quite loved it for just the design and color but when I turned it inside out to inspect I was extremely pleased to discover a Ceil Chapman label on the lower back of the dress below the waist hem!
4.] CHECK THE DETAILS, ARE ALL THE BUTTONS THERE?
There are some things that are easy to replace (like broken zippers, hooks and eyes) and other things not so easy to replace like special buttons. I once purchased a vintage 1940s dress with over a dozen silver bell buttons thinking ALL of them were there and then later realizing when I got home that 2 of them were missing! These were not the kind of buttons I could just go easily find more of, so I had to get a whole "new" (ie vintage deadstock) set of buttons! Not only were the buttons semi costly to purchase, my tailor charged me a pretty penny as well! You should also check for fraying in the pockets, holes in pockets (insides), fraying or weakness of button holes (these are very annoying to repair), if cuffs are missing buttons, if appliques are missing or torn, or if there is bead loss. If you can repair minor things, then go for it. If it is going to be costly and time consuming, maybe put it back. Back away.
5.] THAT'S NOT OMBRE, IT'S FADED!
I can't tell you how many times I've picked up something and didn't follow my own ADVICE (TIP #1 on this list!) and have brought home faded, sun damaged, or water damaged vintage clothing. These sort of things usually happen from being badly stored or wrongly cleaned. Sometimes it can just be how it was stored and what it was stored in. Of course there is the option of deep dyeing vintage clothes to give it a new look and disguise color/fade flaws, and hey if you've got the time and skills, you should go for it! But if it's a pretty bad fade, just put it back. Keep walking. Don't turn around.
- - -
All right vintage gals! I hope this Adored Vintage Guide To Buying + Sourcing Vintage Clothing: 5 Things to Check Before You Buy was helpful! I of course have broken all of these, I'm human and also sometimes I just can't say NO to a rescue (and I have bins of these to prove it!) When it comes down to it, if you LOVE it enough, if you know you JUST CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT IT, and you don't care if it's flawed or has damage, then doggone it, buy, buy away!
- - -
This article was written by Rodellee Bas, the owner and vintage clothing buyer for Adored Vintage, an online vintage clothing shop. While she deems herself very knowledgeable in the vintage clothing field, she would like to add a disclaimer that she's still learning new things every day and she makes mistakes (because she's human!). This vintage guide is meant to be used as a general outline for buying and sourcing vintage. Now go forth and buy vintage!